Can't quite make up my mind on this one. I felt that some of the very modernist staging and the use of a rock n roll style was just arty pretencious nonsense but in fairness some of the sogs worked well and added a new dimension to the play. What can't be questioned is the acting, espceially from Fiona Shaw who gave a brilliant performance. Not my favourite Mother Courage but one definitely worth seeing - Paul Wallis
07 Dec 09
I agree that its not perfect but is this because of the production, the translation or simply that the play is uneven? That said if you go with an open mind I reckon you will see one of the best productions on at the moment, and an actress at the top of her game. - Lost in France
03 Nov 09
Unusual to see people leaving the theatre BEFORE the interval, but I don't blame them. Shaw who is such a great actress cannot sing or dance-she reminded me of Siouxsie Sue , except that the Banshees were much better musicians than this lot!
Also, surprisingly for the National, some of the secondary actors were poor.
I go to the NT a lot-I suppose I was due a stinker. - David hudson
29 Oct 09
Magnificent! Overwhelming! Transcends by far every production of this play I have seen, including those with Diana Rigg at the National and Lotte Lenya in California - Robert Cohen
25 Oct 09
Really enjoyed this, I am in my 60s and a great supporter of innovative site specific theatre Punchdrunk, Kneehigh and Wildworks to name but 3, It seems to me that many of the adverse reviews are from those who have preconceived ideas of how Brecht should be performed largely gleaned from previous productions. I think if theatre is to survive it cannot compete on the unequal playing field of realism with TV and Film, it has to find new and exiting ways to deliver the messages it contain, This was a brave attempt; Fiona Shaw was brilliant and moving and the evening memorabl and thought provoking which has become part of the criteria I use to judge theatre. - Deborah H
22 Oct 09
Could the music be any worse???!!! - Paul
13 Oct 09
I went to see this show as part of my 'A' Level drama course. Some people actually left during the interval; however I felt that the lighting, special effects, and acting in general were excellent. All of the people in my group felt that the music was terrible and really ruined the overall feel of the play. I understand that the idea of the music was to DISTRACT the audience from the play but the idea was NOT to make them hate it! Overall I liked the performance, however it would have been much better without the annoying man singing!! - James
13 Oct 09
Deborah Warner shoots another play in the head. Why does the NT keep giving her money to obscure texts? Half-baked, incoherent, shouty and dull. - addicted to theatre
13 Oct 09
This is great.
I'm not quite sure why there's such a marmite reaction to it, but in fairness, it won't be to everyones taste... so... err... then i do understand the marmite-ness to it..
I didn't think Fiona Shaw was that great, howver everyone who surrounded her was fantastic, especialy her daughter who (i've learned recently) is actualy profoundly deaf in real life, which added to the astonishment that she's so fabulous in this show!
Given Lars von trier's recent exploration of the 'Brechtian' idiom in film, this did feel a little bit like one of his... but staged (if that makes and sence). The whole thing is massive and it's a great use of the Olivier auditorium.. however.... the music is awfull.. really really awfull... Duke Special's terrible Rufus Wainright-ism's are bland and absolutly not what Deborah Warner seems to want to complete her rock staging... it's very odd that they choose him to do the music when the world is the nationals oyster!!
that said this is top top stuff!! - Cassox
08 Oct 09
Well 3.5 actually. Brecht’s epic story of an entrepreneurial woman struggling to eke out a living during war comes up surprisingly fresh and timeless in Deborah Warner’s production at the National. The contemporary relevance is left for the audience to uncover rather than spelled out patronisingly. The addition of contemporary music by on-stage singer Duke Special, the in-your-face design and the war soundscape all add much. There is however a huge problem in the pacing. It grabs your attention quickly then the first half outstays its welcome at almost 2 hours; pace returns in the second half, though not all the audience have returned! I can understand why she placed the interval at the (brief) outbreak of peace, but it results in an unevenness which is in danger of de-railing the show. Fiona Shaw is completely at home in the role, with excellent support from Sophie Stone as her mute daughter, Harry Melling & Clifford Samuel as her sons, Peter Gowan as the Chaplain, Charlotte Randle as Yvette and Martin Marquez as the cook. - Gareth James
07 Oct 09
Absolutely brilliant - Fiona Shaw is compelling, the music is good and it avoids much of the sermonising that Brecht can descend to. A thrilling evening in the theatre, I've seen it twice. - JJE
29 Sep 09
Like a Glatonbury gig but for the mud. So why have Kattrin blasted from the tree with an anti-tank gun only to have the town's bells raise the alarm? Go for it Warner -let's have a 17th century air raid siren while you are at it... - David Fisk
29 Sep 09
DULL DULL DULL - deb
28 Sep 09
the best production of this play i've seen, by some distance. fiona shaw acts intense emotion without ever emoting. design and music are absolutely in the spirit of the play - and the translation kicks ass. go. - fred
27 Sep 09
All of the reviews for this production of Mother Courage that I have seen fall sharply between "love" and "hate" although the official Press Night/First Night was actually only last night, Friday 25th September 2009. I suppose that these divisions in opinion are inevitable with any serious attempt in the arts to create a genuinely new interpretation of a classic play.
Both the ability of the principles to bring the characters to life and the integration of music from Duke Special and the band kept us absorbed despite the length of the play and was shared with a small group that we met after the performance. Differences in personal taste and judgement on interpretation are to be expected, but I do hope that most can agree at least on the quality of the talent on stage lead by the phenomenal Fiona Shaw.
We were seated in the stalls and didn't note any spare seats in our vicinity appear after the interval and neither did our friends in the circle so I think the vast majority saw the full performance. The applause for the curtain calls was prolonged and appreciative and especially when Gore Vidal came on stage in a wheelchair and expressed his support for the anti-war message of the play. We plan to see the play again in order to give the piece the proper evaluation and review that it deserves. - Mike W
26 Sep 09
Sorry I cannot comment upon the second act -- left at the interval. Acting decent, but the idea of of 17th century tragedy periodically interrupted by inane "spring awakening-like" tunes was truly dreadful. The only thing that kept me awake during the never-ending-two-hour first act was watching members of the audience nod off. - Terry
25 Sep 09
Wow! I must have seen a different play to the reviewer below. We (three of us) loved it. Having studied the play in its original German many years ago, I wasn't expecting a barrel of laughs, but I was extremely pleasantly surprised. Every ounce of humour was squeezed out of the text, and Duke Special's music added a real oomph to this energetic production -- certainly a lot more enjoyable than the funereal wailings from the black and white film all those years ago. We couldn't believe that this was so early in previews -- it seemed remarkably polished to me. Fiona Shaw's performance was, I thought, remarkable; energetic, sexy, dynamic, yet deeply moving. The first thing I did on getting back to my computer this morning was to book to see it twice more, and I urge everybody to do the same before all the tickets are snapped up after what will surely be rave reviews? If you want to see Brecht explode all over the stage, this is the one to see. - LDE
16 Sep 09
Brecht's play intends to be a kind of caricature enabling us to perceive and pass judgment on the behaviour of the small trapped in the whirlwinds of history. Deborah Warner's production is indeed a caricature--but less of us, and more of theatre itself. And not even a good one at that.
Perhaps the most obvious problem with the production is its length. Nothing, it seems, has been cut from the original text, and Tony Kushner's "inventive and vigorous" translation drags its uncertain feet ever so slowly to the well-known denouement. The audience reacted enthusiastically to the scarce humour that peppered the text as they meant a welcome change, but the sentence that was greeted the most was the one announcing the beginning of the intermission after an almost two-hour-long first act. Many did not wait for the treat of the second one, and some of those who did soon gave up and left the theatre before the play ended.
Apart from the wisecracks, the translation offered nothing special, and even left me wondering why the Army Recruiter of the very first scene, who attempted to imitate broken English with a heavy German accent, spoke all the same with a perfect London lingo. No less puzzling were the constant references to modern weapons and warfare after detailed, didactic and declamatory descriptions of the exact time (the 1600s) and place of each scene, projected and read out aloud for the audience as a substitute for the Brechtian Verfremdungseffekt.
Tom Pye's set design consisting of signs, texts and abstract doodles printed and projected on sheets and screens could have worked well, but they only reached their potential in the second (only about half an hour-long) act, where buildings were abstracted to mere words in rectangles in a Magrittean or Dadaist vein. Unfortunately, the caricature-like set was drowned in a swamp of naturalistic odds and ends that were continuously brought in and taken out to make the scenes comprehensible in under a second. At the end, the props threatened to run the play aground as they got under the wheels of Mother Courage's cart and the feet of the actors, which, just four days before the opening night, seemed unprofessional and ridiculous. Fearing for the safety of the players I hardly noticed them dry numerous times, and that, despite the presence of at least two drums on stage, Kattrin (Sophie Stone) had to make noise on a plastic jerrycan instead of the signature drumming after rummaging in the cart for seconds to find the right prop.
The acting was halfway between the black and the white that dominated the scenery (which quickly became boring in itself): it seemed a monotone of grey. Fiona Shaw's Mother Courage, despite a series of costume changes, never managed to put a lump in our throats with the unselfish motherhood she represents, makes us condemn her for her money-grubbing personality, or wake us from being over-emotional by a couple of bon mots. Clifford Samuel's Eilif was overacted even for epic theatre with his role echoing tasteless stereotypes, while Stephen Kennedy's Chaplain smuggled a bit of drawing-room theatre into an abstract battlefield, where it did not belong. Swiss Cheese (Harry Melling), the not-so-clever son of Courage was perhaps the most loveable character. However, his stupidity was so crudely presented that his self-sacrifice -- denying that he knows his mother and sister to save them -- lost all plausibility. By contrast, Yvette (Charlotte Randle) and the Cook (Martin Marquez), the two grave-diggers of Mother Courage, created perfect comic relief from the tragedy of the gradual downfall of the mother, and at times Yvette, the tramp, seemed to steal the show.
No production of Brecht could be complete without the songs, which were provided by the Duke Special and the cast. Unfortunately, the songs were often taken away from the leading characters, which lessened the defamiliarization effect; and their text hardly managed to get through the percussion that dominated the musical arrangement.
I'm sure the performance will improve until its opening, and, knowing a little of the behind-the-scenes, I am always more than willing to shut my eyes to technical difficulties, keeping my fingers crossed for the cast to get through the performance without an incident. But this staging of Brecht's classic realizes so little of its potential that I cannot but wonder about the intention of the artistic management of NT behind presenting this play, and doubt its success with an audience that deserves better. - Jon R
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